Sunday, March 29, 2015

Dirtster Meets the Wizard & Other Explicit Shenanigans

There's some sort of truth to this March Madness and it has nothing to do with Basketball teams and only a little to do with the Twitter handle @asgarbagecan and a mistaken #TwitterWar I started with ultrarunning's best female marathoner. However, none of that madness is anywhere near as interesting as the story I am about to tell.

In my world, the real madness began when I left early March to live on the road, destined for the fantastically warm Southwest and all the softening of the brain, insanity, and intoxication of spirit that was to come in those too brief three weeks of freedom. The trip consisted of work on the Bigfoot 200 & Arizona 200 courses, a race to compete in, and playing/exploring new trails.
Fastpacking the Bigfoot 200 course, Pompey Peak
First, there was work to be had.  Oh work, it was at its best at that moment because I was getting to be on the trail and out from in front of the computer. This kind of work is like that feeling of almost being on top of the mountain while traversing one of its ridges, trees like a carpet of wrinkles in the distance, the ground so far away I could almost be rock climbing. It's a combustible mixture of danger, excitement, and concentration. There's nothing like that feeling of being high and it makes me wonder why I'd ever want anything man made again.

Cutting the Edge: Race Directing 2015

It's with a sense of exploration and need for danger that feeds me in both my work and personal life and what better place to experience it than on the road? This trip began with a new camping car and plans to fastpack a race course the first week. Freedom took the shape of a boxy black Honda Element with seats taken out for sleeping quarters, a skybox, no cruise control, driving way too fast, and a FM ipod transmitter for my music. Failure would mean far more in this endeavor than in just any old fast packing trip. I had to establish a new route for the end of the Bigfoot 200. To read more about why, check out my petition and learn about how an organization wants to ban events on the Pacific Crest Trail.

As a race director who takes on some of the biggest projects in the trail event world (see Tahoe 200, Bigfoot 200, & Arizona 200) I have started to feel a bit like Atlas, holding the world on my shoulders. Only it's a dream world that through my dedication comes alive with adventures, mountains, wild streams, endless trails and exhilaration laced fatigue. Occasionally mythical creatures like Bigfoot, the Wonderland Puma, and on this trip, a Wizard make an appearance in these adventures. Carrying my dreams, heavy as they may be at times, makes me stronger and capable of more and more. I wonder how the world can keep expanding exponentially for me and yet I don't question the process, I just go for it.
Pre-Race talk before the inaugural 2014 Tahoe 200
Typically Race Directing consists of organizing people and supplies, purchasing swag/supplies, public speaking, course design/marking, however, I consider myself more of a dreamweaver than anything. Dreamweaving is the part I am especially good at. Good enough to feel that knock of fate that makes my work feel like a religion of trails: a map I'd follow no matter what the world around me looked like or expressed, I'm blind to obstacles and clear about the desired outcome.

Obstacles are what you see when you take your eyes off the goal. ---Vince Lombardi
Race Directing Work
Somehow, by creating the first single loop 200 mile in the USA, the Tahoe 200, I brought into the light a movement of ultra-ultra distance events that has been slowly growing as more runners want to test their limits beyod 100 miles. These outrageously long races aren't easy (by any definition of the word!) to direct or compete in. They are sure to leave their recipients begging for mercy all the while using their last good hand to type their initials into Ultrasignup. Into the dream an adventurous few go! Creating their own adventure out of that spiderweb of dreams I'd created and living, I mean like real live fucking living! The Tahoe 200 and Bigfoot 200 and other events of their breed of crazy shouted out for an extreme need for freedom and a propensity to enjoy exhilaration laced fatigue, masochism or whatever you call that human "Peeling of the Onion." Who are we, we people of the trail that just crave more: more time on the trail, more pain, more distance, more hallucinations, more freedom? I wondered.

Week 1: Rerouting the Bigfoot 200 & Driving South West

Fast packing never goes how you expect it to go. Plan away then plan to throw away the plan. Which is how the Bigfoot fastpacking went when I ran into 10-20 feet of snow over the trail just 10 miles into the 100 mile route I'd devised. Read about my fastpacking gone wrong trip here. In all honesty, I really only needed to do about 25 miles of trail. The extra 75 miles was for fun, a "fun padding" of sorts, and because I needed to somehow loop around to my car by the end of the thing. No one was there to pick me up, shuttle me point to point, or save me if something went wrong. Just the way I like it: a personal religious fucking experience with no intermediaries to tame the process or outcome. With the fast packing work behind me and a new end of the Bigfoot 200 course plotted and approved I was off again, for Moab this time.
The trail quickly became impossible to follow without use of my GPS on my Bigfoot 200 scouting run.
Moab & Monument Valley

Driving was like being at a good concert where you have to sit in your seat the whole time, but damn is that muuuusic was good. I needed some time to think, or maybe it was time to not think, to have a singular purpose rather than my usual Olympic level multi-tasking. My iphone 5s was encased in a pink lifeproof case defaulting to a "note" signal with every message and I was just driving, the messages piling up like paperwork on the Forest Service's desk.  Now . we . are . talking.  This is what I was meant to do.  No, not drive across the country! To experience life. Let's go. I was heading to Moab to play for a few days on new trails then to Monument Valley in Arizona to run a race that I shouldn't run in a place I was ready to experience. Which is how the race went, in a nutshell of sand and sun.

After the running event that ended for me before its full experience was to be had and yet so many miles of sand, sunshine, fellow travelers on the trail of "Peeling Their Onion" and red mountains that more resembled shines to some ancient God than piles of rock and sand, it was time to move on. I know the feeling of needing to leave all too well. It means leaving people who love me, people who care about me, people who barely know me but want more, leaving the experience of understanding a place and its people because I need the simplicity of the road and trail and the introverted experience of sailing my own ship no matter what. It's me and the highway, not me or the highway.
Monument Valley, picture courtesy Ultra Adventures
With all those thoughts of leaving Monument Valley, I was gone with a billow of red dust and coffee grinds, fallen mistakenly from their filter telling the story of the Bigfoot 200 like a light roast out of Seattle: mapping my softening of brain madness farther and farther South like Hansel and Gretel's enchanted but dangerous walk in the woods. Next stop: Flagstaff. And why not? It was 4pm leaving Monument Valley with just a 3 hour drive to Flag (2.5 for me, remember no cruise control). There's no better place to car camp than a town with excellent microbreweries. Onward.

What Happens in Flagstaff...

Which is how I found myself sneaking out of a brewery in Flagstaff at 9 p.m. to avoid an awkward "Not Interested" situation when my unwanted consort left for the restroom. It seemed like a reasonable time to check out one more of the many local breweries in town a solas.

Place #2, not to be named for fear of being exposed for the brewery jumping dirtster that I am, had some reasonably good live music. After some interesting insights into the local music scene, I was again free from man made buildings and brew and walking 2" high and in a skirt of all things, all the while trying futilely to find my rental: a brick two room mirage of escape from the evening, that eluded me.

Within a few minutes, I stopped in my tracks by my own inadequacy: I had no idea where I was. Had I walked this way or that way? Of all the places I have been lost, this was surely one of the lonliest. I'd rather be lost on the mountain that in the city. At that second that was spiked by fear, I paused, surely looking lost and I heard from the other side of the street, "Do you need help?"

Dirtster Meets the Wizard

I glanced over and immediately I knew that I did need help, at least from this man. Breweries or not, 3 a.m. or not, he was clearly a picture of Flagstaff hospitality. Without further ado, I handed him the keys to my room. Before you judge, it was all in an effort to determine where my rental was. I'm not the type of person to rent some bullshit hotel cookie cut from a mother fucking strip mall.  I want the real deal: a quirky place with a $5 deposit hard key with your room number taped on one side and and shower that takes 10 minutes to warm up. After a minute of surprising clarity, I was able to explain the details of my hotel accurately enough to my new and very helpful friend that he quickly found my building. What are you a freaking Wizard? I asked, not sure if I spoke out loud of just in my head.

We parted ways after exchanging numbers so we could run the next day (Yes the Wizard runs and apparently you have to be out at 3 a.m. on a Saturday to find single runner guys. No wonder I have been single for a while). As I tried to open the door to my room, fishing in my purse and coming up short, I realized I did not have my keys and that the tall handsome fellow I'd just met must have them. After weeks of sleeping in the Element it was a pretty scary thought to miss out on a 'real' bed.

My new friend, the Wizard, was just across the street considering exactly where to place a not so private piss on the neighboring building or bushes when I interrupted him with, "Hey do you have my keys still?" Yes, of course he did. Again we were propelled into communicating with each other, all the way to my room. We sat in my brick room talking for hours until I said I must sleep, making it a strangely short night under the circumstances. Afterall, it's just me and the highway and trail and so I said goodbye and despite last minute promises to run the next day, I knew I would leave to avoid any real connection. I had too many plans to be distracted.
Checking out the AZ trail as I scouted the AZ 200 course
Escape & Discovery in Arizona

I left for Sedona as fast as I could that same day to be free, completely free from anyone else's expectations. I remember some texting in that process of me leaving as I canceled my plans to run with the Wizard: I was too busy. That night in Sedona, the town of expensive hotels, beautiful trails and overwhelming impersonality, I felt that I'd made a mistake to run away from Flagstaff so quickly.

I'm not one to stay a course that doesn't feel right. I follow my heart at every turn no matter what logic says, and the few times I haven't I correct quickly. With a fear in my heart, a fear of closeness, but a greater feeling of regret that needed to be righted I drove back to Flagstaff to continue to experience the city of mountains, altitude, desert, and brewery-fuckin-college town-country two step-brain numbing-mountain running-Rob Krar single track bliss that is essentially Flag. And to see the Wizard.

The Wizard and I agreed to meet that St. Patty's night with some of his friends and one of mine, a dirtbagging woman, Joelle, I'd met the night before. AS the night went on, our group whittled down from 10 or so to just me and the Wizard and Joelle and her new companion, Solar Power, at a Irish bar DJ party. It wasn't long before the Wizard and I were warned that we would be kicked out for our dancing antics. The Wizard has some moves, let me tell you. I mean like real dance moves.

You'd think that a warning would quell our dancing, however, we laughed mischieviously at Mr. Security and the Wizard whispered that I could do a flip on the dance floor. Naturally I agreed, with no prior flipping experience. In a moment that hung in the air, much like I'm sure my lacy black underwear did, upside down, the Wizard flipped me backwards head over heels in a stunt I cannot even imagine doing sober.

If you do a flip in a bar and no one sees your underwear, did it really happen? My guess is as good as yours. All I know is that we were not kicked out after that stunt, more magic perhaps? The night ran into the next day like black felt tip in water and it was soon time to go. But first, just one more round on the dance floor, so I set down my bag and we took one minute to twirl around or in my case, double step on the Wizard's foot (he was very understanding). Solar Power and Joelle were still at the bar and as we started to head out together, I realized someone had grabbed my entire bag: credit cards, phone, ID, cash, everything.

Sinking, sinking, sober into the seriousness of the moment, a moment that had just been so carefree and was now heavy as wet cotton. Solar Power let me call my bank from his downtown office to cancel my cards, but I was left with the problem of how to get into my hotel room at 2 a.m. with no key. Which is why this little fact came in so handy: the Wizard, in his usual Wizardly ways also happens to be quite beautifully tall. Which gave me an idea and simultaneously made me wonder if I somehow knew this whole debacle would happen in the first place. I'd left the bathroom window ajar earlier that evening and I remember thinking that it would be good to leave open just in case I got locked out of my room. The Wizard's height plus a window being open meant that we might have a fighting chance at getting into my room.

When we arrived at the brick building, we surveyed the situation. The window was above the Wizard's eye level, but not out of reach. He was more nimble that I'd expected, getting his leg on the small ledge with a little lifting of his other leg from me. Lucky for both of us, he was tall and slender, as no extra calories would be funneled through that small window, your typical fast runner body. The Wizard was in the room and unlocking my front door like he'd been breaking and entering his entire juvenile lifespan. Somehow that was an attractive trait at 3 a.m. in the morning sans keys.

Despite my bag and all its innards (phone, debit cards, ID, cash) being stolen and the subsequent trip to Verizon that very next morning to replace the phone I somehow managed to survive. I know right?! The plan was to go to Verizon to get a new phone, then begin the long 23 hr drive back to Washington from Arizona.

Going to Verizon was like stepping into a time vortex. The employees were comically lacking in ability to help me replace my phone. The Wizard accompanied me and managed to make me laugh between my quiet cursing of mobile phone carriers and being jockied around the office like a new secretary. Without my ID I had very limited options for getting a new phone or replacing my stolen one.

Me to the Wizard: Don't you want to leave? This is obviously going to take a while.

Wizard: Yes, with you.

Me: Ha! Yes, well... they've already asked me to prove who I am by having me answer my secret questions, making me show them the title to my car, printing out my insurance card as proof, and still won't let me get a phone. Next thing they're going to make me run a fucking ultra or design a 200 miler in 2 hours.

Fucking Verizon. 3 hours later I walked out with the Wizard, a new iPhone 6, and a bill that makes a new home mortgage look like panhandling pocket change. It was already 2:30 in the afternoon and it seemed like a good time to finally have breakfast. The Wizard in his usual laid back understated hospitality offered to make food at his place. How was it that we kept ending up at each other's doorstep, or in this case kitchen stool? I never decline an offer from a 28 year old to make me breakfast and so I found myself enjoying eggs and bacon in the shadow of Arizona's Mt. Humphrey, Mt. Elden, and the San Francisco Peaks.

Returning to Washington

Just when it felt right to stay in a place, it was again time to leave. It's been a while since I've had mixed feeling about leaving a place because of a person. It's usually because of the place itself, its trails, and mountains. My drive back to Washington began that same night of my 'breakfast for dinner' shenanigans with the Wizard. After a very lingering goodbye to the Wizard at sunset, I was off shooting through the night in my Element, a satellite orbiting the earth, sure that I'd be back around to this spot again.

The journey home was an ultramarathon of scenery and 90 m.p.h. cruising and hallucinations brought on by the night and monotony. My vehicle might as well have been manned by a the universe itself as it rocketed North, but in this case it was just a determined High Priestess of 200s. Did I mention the Wizard knows how to dance?

 9 mile run in Fairyland at Bryce National Park on the way home
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Tuesday, March 10, 2015

When Adventure Goes Wrong: Fastpacking in the Cascades

Getting permits for a 200 mile trail running event that goes point to point is not an experience I'd wish on my worst enemy... however, there are many times when the planning and permitting process can be fun. Generally this means I have to go out and "check out the trails/roads/aid locations" to make sure they will fit the needs of the event That usually means planning a fastpacking trip, a multi day adventure in the mountains. This trip was really into the unknown, as I wouldn't be out there checking it out if I had all the information in the first place.

Which brings me to my latest fastacking trip. I only had about 70-100 miles to cover, about 35 of those miles were needed just so I could get back to my car. I had to decide whether I would do an out & back or a big loop, almost half of which was unnecessary for mapping purposes but necessary for returning to my car. I decided on a loop as I really dislike out and backs. I'd rather see new terrain if possible, even when it wouldn't be part of the race course.

Meetings with the Forest Service went well, but that night my new-to-me Honda Element suddenly became impossible to shift into gear high on a mountain and I did all I could to get it back to town so I could have a mechanic look at it the next morning. That pushed my trip out a day. The mechanic was able to bleed air out of the system and - fingers crossed - I haven't had trouble since them!

I used the rest of the day to organize my gear in the city of Randle at a hometown cafe parking lot. Besides some strange looks, one weathered woman smoking a cig and havng trouble getting phone reception, asked what I was doing. After telling her about my "backpacking" trip (I called it backpacking to simplify my usual explanation) she asked, "Who are you going with?"

"I'm going solo," I replied.

She looked surprised and impressed and said, "You must be married!" I think she was trying to say that a girl who does these kinds of adventures would be desirable, although I'm not entirely sure what she meant.

"No, I'm not," I said, "Actually that's probably why I'm not married!" Afterall, when you are travelling all the time and you enjoy doing trips solo, or in other words, are rather independent like myself, there's not huge motivation to make relationship kinds of commitments. I'd also have to find someone who could keep up with all my endeavors. I think there's enough material on this subject for it's own blog post, so I've leave it at that for now.

Altra Shoes (Lone Peak 2 pictured here) are great for hiking/fastpacking/ and running. I added Icespikes to them for traction. It's also a good idea to bring gels (I use vfuel), even if you are mostly going to eat solid foods as they can give you quick easy to digest energy when you need it fast. If you plan to race using gels, you will also want to use them in training, so I bring them along and use them for training and emergencies.

The next morning before the sun rose with a layer of ice over all my car windows from sleeping inside it. I had taken out the back seats so that when I traveled I could sleep in it much like a van. I was up and making coffee with my jetboil and single pour cup as the sun slowly lit up the frosty mountain tops all around. A quick stop at the local gas station for ice for the food I'd be leaving in my cooler for several days and I was off driving my Element up Forest Service roads to the start of my adventure. I took Rd 2304 to find a trail I really hoped was there the 7 / 7A trail.
Some of the food I took with me in addition to VFuel Endurance Gels

The 7/7A trail traverses mountain peaks North of Mt. Adams and goes South from Randle, WA almost all the way to the Goat Rocks Wilderness and Mt. Adams. It runs along a ridgeline with views of some of WA's & OR's biggest mountains: Mt. Rainier, Mt. Adams, Mt. Hood, Mt. St. Helens, and Glacier Peak. I was pretty excited to check it out but worried as my contact, Jack, at the Forest Service in Randle told me it has been unmaintained for several years and as a "hiking only" trail, it wouldn't be getting much use. He stressed that I might be climbing over downed trees the entire way or that the trail could be overgrown to the point of not being able to follow it or both!

I barely got up Rd. 2304 when I had to park and begin my fastpacking. the road had been washed out by Owen's Creek in two spots and there was no way my low clearance Element was going to make it over. My pack felt very heavy and I hoped the climbs wouldn't be too intense with all that weight on my back. Rd 2304 became a trail quite quickly and had a good number of trees down, nothing too overwhelming but enough to make me take note so we could go in later and chop them off the trail.

The Road (now a trail) became faint at times and then would open up and clearly be a trail, other times I was sure that it was about to peter out... As the trail began climbing toward Pompey Peak it was easier to follow, but still had trees I had to climb over, a lot more work when carrying 3 days of food and gear! At the base of Pompey Peak I took the trail to the peak and WOW OH WOW! What a view!! See photos:

It was at Pompey Peak where I began to hit snow. A lot of snow. In fact the farther South I went from Pompey Peak, the deeper the snow became and the harder it was to follow the trail. There was no trail, just 10-20 feet of snow that at times would get down to about 5 feet but I was left relying on my Garmin 64st GPS to follow where the path was.
 My GPS is essential to my work. It helps me put on races, map my courses, and in some circumstances, follow a trail or find a trail when it's near impossible to find. 
The GPS kept me close to the trail but it was near impossible to find the actual trail and I weaved in and out of trees, up and down the hillside, watching my GPS constantly. 4 miles into this intense and overwhelmingly difficult snow traversing, I ended up on a cliff side under an unnamed peak. I'd fallen in numerous tree wells and this was pushing me past my comfort. Then, my GPS screen went blue. Nothing.

I go with the rule of 3. Sometimes it's 4, but at some point on an adventure, when things keep going wrong, you have to say enough is enough and get to safety. I was at about 3, when I decided to call it a day. If you keep going when things go wrong, you can get so deep in trouble that there's no coming out without severe consequences. It's a lot better to be able to say, "I don't know what would have happened," then, "Something really bad happened."

Without a GPS or a trail and a bad feeling about the whole thing and with night time quickly approaching, I had to make  a hard decision. I decided to turn back. I had confirmed that the trail existed enough that I wouldn't leave totally empty handed, but it was still disappointing. I would have to wait for some of the snow to melt to get the entire GPS track, but that was a lot better than getting hurt, lost, or even die in the mountains with no one knowing where I was. Now, the challenge was to follow my tracks back to my car, and try to do it all in one day.

It was a lot faster going back than it was on the way out. My tracks were still all there and although they were weaving around like a drunk (I'd been following the GPS which makes for a lot of side to side travel trying to stay on the track) I was able to cut out some of my unnecessary trekking knowing which direction I had come from.

I got back to my car after 12 hrs and only 28 miles! The combination of a heavy pack, lots of snow and down trees slowed me down to just over 2 mph. The out and back had 6,500 feet of climbing, not too shabby for a ridgeline traverse!
Back safe in the car! 
Fastpacking Packs
I highly recommend the Ultimate Direction Fastpack 20 or 30. I you have to carry lots of gear - tent/cold weather clothes/stove you might consider a pack with a frame and waist belt, however these two packs will help you travel light and fast and ride well enough to run even with a lot of gear. If you weigh yourself down with lots of gear, you will move much slower and these packs hkeep you tot the essentials. 

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Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Fastpacking Solo

I'm sure most of you would love to "have to" go out and fastpack a route for your work. I certainly do, and it gets me out in the mountains when I might otherwise find myself blissfully sweating in 100F heat at Elements Hot Yoga Power Class.
Speaking of yoga, no excuse not to do your 200/100 or my case 400/100/4min while being a Dirtster!

Now's not the time to fantasize about hot yoga however! It's still bone chilling cold here in the mountains in Washington but happily very little snow for a trail runner like me! Time to get tough and enjoy frosty mornings and numb feet.

I've just finished a day (more really) of preparations for a 3-4 days of fastpacking. If you've never planned a multi day trip solo in the backcountry before you might not realize how much planning it really takes. You might imagine that you'd just drive out to the mountains and start running. I wish...  
Right smack dab in the middle of Gifford Pinchot National Forest and Mt St Helens, Mt Adams, & Mt Rainier!

It really takes days if not weeks to plan a good Fastpack trip. You need to map it, get the right gear and food, prepare your gear, clothing, and food, and pack it, being very mindful to weed out the unnecessary. Taking less stuff takes more preparation and time than just throwing everything in your pack. What do you need? Why do you need it? What are the chances you will need it? What's the weather likely to be? How many days might it take? What are the worst case scenarios? 

I've learned that I have to be careful packing because while some people take too much, I often take too little. I've ended up freezing the entire time or running out of food or in the case of fastpacking at Tahoe: running out of food AND sleeping on the ground the entire time with no sleeping pad (actually it's quite nice & grounding and makes you feel tough but very hard on a fatigued body!). 
Thanks to a Bigfoot200 runner I'm quite fittingly enjoying my "Bigfoot Field Researcher" mug. 

I'm typing this post on my phone with a tiny iPhone keypad and 2 dots of service in an "extended LTE network" while snuggled in my sleeping bag in the back of my Honda Element, so I'm gonna keep this brief, or more brief than I otherwise would! 

Itinerary: determine if Twin Peaks Trail and 7/7A trails exist while traversing from Randle, WA to Mt. Adams, and then looping back to where I parked my car in the middle of nowhere, WA.

Miles: Who the fuck really knows? Maybe 80-100? With 20,000-30,000ft climbing?  About to find out! 

Days: Thursday-Saturday or Sunday at latest. 


Black diamond Z poles, ultra distance of course ;)

I'm using the Altra Lone Peak 2s! Best shoe ever!

Alright, that's it for now! I'll report back when I'm done and hopefully I won't burn any ticks, err I mean blisters off my ankles this time! 

Mmmm, yummy quick fuel for my speed workout the day before fastpacking.

Want More?
For more daily fitness ideas, inspiration, and humor, check out my Facebook Page
Yoga based core and strength exercises on my YouTube Channel
A little crazy on Instagram
Short, sweet and sassy on Twitter
Entertaining 5 million at a time on Google+